NC Health Report: State Health Plan; Senator Stein Moves NC Forward on Health Reform

Editors:  Adam Searing and Adam Linker
Check out all our videos on HAC's  YouTube channel.
Video:  Jack Walker, director of the NC State Health Plan, is routinely called "Dr. Walker" by members of the General Assembly and the news media.  When he comes forward with ideas like charging older state employee spouses higher premiums or random blood and breath tests to catch smokers, this title helps give him credibility.  However, Walker's PhD degree is from a closed, never-accredited institution the California Attorney General's office called "an empty shell" that "gave you credit if you inhaled and exhaled."
State Employees have a right to be skeptical about being asked to pay a new premium for state health plan individual coverage.  Premiums would raise about $90 million, but the General Assembly has already made amendments to the state health plan bailout bill that give $77 million to health care special interests and add $24 million in additional costs.  State employees might need to pay a premium, but not to bail out health care special interests.
US Senator Kay Hagan says she might vote against the budget bill that includes a down payment on national health reform - but she votes for reform in the end.
On the House side, even conservative Democrat Heath Shuler voted for the budget bill in Congress.  But not NC Representative Mike McIntyre - he was one of only 20 Democrats nationwide who voted against a down payment on national health reform, more affordable college, and getting a start on global warming research - all top Obama administration priorities. 
Chiropractors and OTs were the latest special interests to get yet another amendment to the state health plan bailout bill.  This amendment adds another $24 million to the cost of the bill - likely meaning even more cost sharing and payments for state employees.
Freshman Senator Josh Stein of Raleigh has quietly introduced two of the most important health care reform bills in the General Assembly this session.  His first proposal is for a small business health plan that is run by private insurance but is more affordable because a state pool takes on some of the risk of the plan.  Businesses, workers, private insurers and the state all are asked to work together and contribute in this plan, a version of which was first envisioned by the NC Institute of Medicine.  Stein's bill would also extend and increase the small business health care tax credit from $250 to $400 - a measure that would help while the new affordable plan is getting established.
Second, Senator Stein has proposed a comparative effectiveness task force for North Carolina that would put our state in the forefront of reducing health care costs - both here and nationally.  Stein's bill would create a task force of experts to better publicize, use and conduct research on which medical treatments work - and which don't.  We can save billions in health costs simply by not paying for care that is ineffective.  This is smart policy and a natural for North Carolina with its sophisticated centers of medical and health treatment and research.  [Check out HAC's recent report on the geographical differences in care in NC.]
Stein's two bills are far-reaching and, given that this is his first term in the Senate, face obstacles legislation from longer-term members might not.  It's hard to overstate however how important it is that Stein is moving forward on the health issue in such a progressive, yet pragmatic, manner.  The major health issue in the NC General Assembly so far has been the state health plan bailout.  That bill adds millions in health care cost sharing for state employees, has been amended at every turn in both the House and Senate to add over $100 million in new costs - almost all of which is money that goes directly to health care special interests, much of which comes further out of the pockets of state workers. 
So, the health care debate for the NC General Assembly this session has been all about enriching health care special interests at the expense of workers paying higher family health premiums while at the same time cutting coverage and increasing cost sharing.
Senator Stein's proposals are a voice of reason in the strange world of Jones Street - ideas to make health insurance cheaper for small businesses (where most people work who are uninsured) and contain health costs for everyone paying ever-skyrocketing health premiums.
ONE OUT OF THREE NORTH CAROLINIANS WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE:  A new report from Families USA released today finds that 34% of people in North Carolina went without health insurance for some part of the two-year 2007-2008 period. 
RALEIGH HEALTH CARE RALLY:    On Sunday, April 19, from 2-4 p.m., the North Carolina organization Life o' Mike is holding a rally for Health Care for All on the grounds of the NC State Capitol Building.  CONTACT: Leslie Boyd at  or 828-243-6712.
Tuesday April 21st; 3:00pm  Healthy Burke Access to Care Task Force Meeting; Western Piedmont Community College
Health Science Building Room 161
1001 Burkemont Ave
HAC is organizing a small business roundtable discussion about health reform and what small business concerns are moving forward.
 Contact for all HAC-related meetings:  HAC Outreach Coordinator Hope Marasco ( 919-863-2405)
HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA NOW (HCAN) PUBLIC FORUMS:   This state/national partnership will be sponsoring a public forum on health care reform in Charlotte on April 9 on the campus of UNC Charlotte, and another in Raleigh on April 16 on the campus of North Carolina State. Contact:
MORE STATE REVENUE:  Check out the NC Budget and Tax Center's alternative revenue plan to raise additional revenue to close the budget gap by closing tax loopholes and making our tax system more fair.
UNC POVERTY CENTER CONFERENCE:  On Thursday, April 9, 2009, the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity will convene state and national experts to examine domestic poverty in light of the current economic crisis. The conference will look at how the recession has affected low income Americans, the effectiveness of current and proposed measures, and ways to maintain focus on the poor in times of limited and competing resources.
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